Why The Middle East Must Await The Return Of Jesus ChristErwin W. Lutzer | March 3, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
We need to pray for peace in the Middle East, but lasting peace will not happen until Christ returns. But why?
In this message, Pastor Lutzer compares and contrasts what Islam and Christianity say regarding Israel and the promises of God, then answers why lasting peace won’t happen until Christ returns.
You know, the Bible says that we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but if you have been praying for the peace of Jerusalem, you know that that prayer has not yet been answered. Today’s message is going to be on Jerusalem, and the time when indeed that prayer will be answered finally, and why it awaits the return of Jesus Christ.
We could admire our politicians who want to bring peace to the Middle East, but my contention this morning is that there will be no peace in the Middle East. There may be a truce, so we’re glad that they can work toward a cessation of hostilities that will last for a while, but ultimately there can be no peace in the Middle East until the triumph of Jesus Christ to the city of Jerusalem and specifically to the Mount of Olives.
Let me give you a few reasons, all of them rooted deeply in religion. First of all, according to Islam, and you know that the Palestinians are largely Islamic, the promises that God gave to Abraham are fulfilled in his oldest son, Ishmael, rather than in Isaac. Now you know, of course, that Ishmael was indeed Abraham’s oldest son, and the belief is that Mohammed descended from Ishmael. That’s the belief in the Middle East, and so the idea is that it is God who gave to the Muslims the land, to the descendents of Mohammed, and not the descendents of Isaac.
Now you have to understand that the Bible does not leave this question in ambiguity. It is very clear scripturally that the promises are actually given to the descendents of Isaac, the Jews, and Ishmael is not the child of promise. Ishmael came about because of Abraham’s unbelief and his relationship with the slave girl, Hagar, but the promises are to be to Isaac – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob repeatedly in Scripture. But nonetheless it is important for us to realize that the Palestinians would believe just as deeply in the divine right to the land as the Jewish people or as some of us would.
There’s a second reason and that is that in Islam you have the Doctrine of Sacred Space. It means that any land that was at one time operated or occupied by Muslims must remain in Muslim hands and if it is ever lost it has to be won back by Jihad. Back in the year 637, Muslim armies came to the Holy Land, which was largely unprotected, and conquered it. After that, throughout the centuries they occupied the Holy Land and then when they began to persecute pilgrims and put people to death in Bethlehem and continue to harass any who would visit the Holy Land. You had the Crusades. And the Crusades had a wonderful purpose, namely to reclaim the Holy Land and to make it free for pilgrims, but unfortunately the Crusades were very badly managed for reasons that I will not go into, and there were some atrocities that were committed. Nonetheless later on you have Saladin coming once again and the land is in Muslim hands until really the First and Second World War, so as a result of that Muslims say, “This was our land; we occupied it and we want it back – not just part of it but all of it.”
Finally, in the Koran there are many curses against the Jews. I won’t read any of them to you but these curses, especially in Middle East countries are taught even to school children. They are taught this kind of hatred and we’ve seen it on the news as it has been displayed, especially in places such as Saudi Arabia. Now I’m not saying that all Muslims hate Jews. I’m sure that the Muslims that live in our communities here for the most part accept some of the more tolerant passages of the Koran rather than the curses of the Koran, but nonetheless throughout the Middle East where tensions are so high there is no doubt that that tremendous hatred exists. But the issue isn’t even so much land as it is blood, and that’s why no permanent peace can be brought to the Middle East.
Now today what we’re going to do is to look at the Scripture, and the Scriptures have to do with the wrapping up of what’s going to happen in Jerusalem when Messiah comes. It’s interesting that the text begins talking about Jerusalem. Even though Jerusalem is mentioned nowhere in the Koran, it is mentioned in the Bible 767 times from beginning to end. It’s all about Jerusalem and that’s where history as we know it is going to wrap up. And what I’d like to do is to show you scripturally three affirmations in this passage of Scripture, and we are going to be looking at three chapters, though very hurriedly, and we’ll simply point out the high spots. Three affirmations are made by God regarding the future of Jerusalem, and the return of Messiah to that land.
So with that introduction let’s look at these three affirmations. One of the things that you discover in chapters 12, 13 and 14 of Zechariah is that the expression on that day occurs fifteen times. For example in verse 4 of chapter 4 it says, “On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse, etc.” It says in verse 6, “On that day I will make the clans of Judah.” Verse 8 says, “On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
On that day! What day? This is the day of the Messianic Age. This is the time when Jesus Christ returns, as we shall see. It is a future day when finally the issue of Jerusalem is settled and it’ll be settled eventually for all eternity, as we’ll find in the next few moments.
Now first of all, God says, “I’m going to defend my people, namely the Jewish people, Judah and Israel.” You’ll notice that He says in verse 2, “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding people.” The idea is that they are going to come to Jerusalem to drink, as it were, and they are going to discover that they are intoxicated and they are going to be disoriented and they won’t be able to fulfill their desire and their designs against the city of Jerusalem. He says in verse 3, “On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the people who will lift it. They will certainly hurt themselves.” It says, “If there are thieves coming and they have a safe that they are going to run and take with them and in the process they discover it’s too heavy and they have to drop it.” Later on in this passage the Lord goes on to say that He’s also going to make them like a fire, and there will be a fire of the surrounding nations and if I may summarize this quickly it says in verse 8, “On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest of them on that day shall be like David, and the House of David shall be like God.” In other words, God is going to strengthen His people. Jerusalem ultimately is going to be defended and it’s going to be the city where everything wraps up. So God says first of all as an affirmation, “I’m going to defend my people.” He’s going to defend Jerusalem.
Now there’s a second affirmation and that is that God says, “I’m going to restore my people. I’m going to restore the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” I’m using the word restore but actually it would be better for me to use the word redeem. “I’m going to redeem the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” You’ll notice He says in verse 10, “And I will pour out on the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy so that when they look on me (on Him who they have pierced) they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps for a firstborn.” And you’ll notice that this is a reference to the return of Jesus Christ when there is going to be a generation of Jews living in the land of Israel, all of whom will look upon Jesus when He returns (and the next chapter describes that return) and they’ll recognize Him to be the Messiah.
You know, sometimes when I study the Bible I am just totally blown away by its accuracy. For example, it says in John 19 that when Jesus was crucified they did not break any of His bones, but one soldier pierced His side that the Scripture might be fulfilled. “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced.” And it says in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, and those also who have pierced Him.”
Now let’s look at the text. God says, “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced.” Who is the Me there? Who is the object of the pronoun? It is God because God Himself was pierced in Jesus Christ. The message is that God Himself is a redeeming God, and in Jesus, God came to redeem us, the Scripture says. And then when it says, “They shall look upon Him,” now God is looking at it from the standpoint of the people, namely, “They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn and recognize that this was indeed our Messiah.”
Now I need to be clear today and tell you that there are many Jews who have already accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. They have already looked upon Jesus as the sacrifice of their sins. And if you are listening to this today, no matter who you are, all throughout the Muslim world, by the way, there are Muslims who are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. There are countries such as Iraq and Iran, because even though the way to heaven is narrow, it is through Christ alone. The invitation is broad. It is to everyone to come and to look upon Jesus and to say, “You are pierced through for my iniquities. You are bruised for my sins, and I receive you as my Messiah, as my Lord, and as my Savior.” But there will be a time, as the Apostle Paul says, when all Israel, a whole generation will look upon Jesus when He returns.
So God says, “I am going to restore my people. I am going to redeem my people,” and by the way, yes, I hope I already have given you an invitation. You may be listening by radio. You may be listening online. No matter where you are listening the invitation is to everyone to believe upon Jesus Christ who gave Himself as a sacrifice for sins, and was pierced on behalf of us.
Now, notice that it is not just simply that they’ll be reconciled, but if you go to Zechariah 13 it says, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” And then it goes on to discuss the fact that all idolatry of various kinds will end, false prophets will be taken care of and exposed to be the heretics that they are, and I’m in verse 8 now. “In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive.”
This is really during a time of great tribulation. If you have that in your mind you can understand how this will happen. “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people;’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
So God is going to redeem His people. He’s already doing it now, but during that period of time there is going to be a great time of wonderful redemption. And then God is going to establish His people. By establish, I mean He is going to bring in what is known as the Millennial Kingdom, and the Bible says in Zechariah 14, “Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered,” and so forth. This is known as the Battle of Armageddon. The only campaign that really fits is Revelation 16 where it says that the spirits were sent throughout all the earth to bring all of the armies there to Megiddo, and of course, that’s far north of Jerusalem. But the point is that as the armies gather they want to be able to take Jerusalem. They are squabbling among themselves but then an event happens that unifies them, and what unifies them is the fact that at last Jesus Christ returns. Notice what it says in verses 3 and 4. “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.” Wow!
In about a week some of us hope to stand on the Mount of Olives where it’s been my privilege to stand a number of times, and every time I see it I already know that the Mount of Olives has a geological fault, I’m told, almost right in the middle. And so when Jesus Christ returns, you can just imagine what is going to happen as the topography of the country changes and you have all of these things take place. But His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives.
I find it very significant that Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives because you remember that the prophet Ezekiel said that he saw the glory of God depart from the Temple, and the glory of God went beyond and it went to the Mount of Olives and beyond the Mount of Olives until he couldn’t see it anymore. And then we read the book of Acts and we discover that Jesus took the disciples to the Mount of Olives and when He was ascending into heaven, there were two angels that were there who said to the disciples, “Why are you continuing to gaze into heaven. This same Jesus who has gone into heaven shall in like manner return.” And Jesus Christ is going to return and how fitting it is that He is going to return to the Mount of Olives to ultimately defend His people and establish a brand new era in the great and wonderful city of Jerusalem whose dimensions and topography is going to be radically changed.
Now it says that the Lord comes, and I can’t leave this out. In the last part of verse 5 it says, “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him.” And who are these holy ones? Well, believe it or not, they are you; they are me; they are all who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior throughout the whole world, no matter what nationality, no matter what their background is. Why? It is because if we understand the Scriptures correctly, we will have already been raptured into the presence of Jesus. We’ll have our brand new bodies.
Look at the person next to you today and just speak right now and say, “You’re getting a new body.” Would you tell them that? And I’ll tell you what a body it is going to be. It’s going to be remade so that we will recognize you in heaven, and we’ll know who you are. And our memories are going to be excellent. There will be no nametags in heaven. Thank God for that, and we’re going to be up there and the Bible says that there is going to be the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Now all this is in Revelation 19.
And then the Bible says that after this great and glorious wedding what next? Well, Jesus is going to return and it says all those who are clothed in white are going to come with him, and that is clearly the saints. And that’s where you have this great triumph of Jesus as He descends from heaven to earth. And it’s during those times that every eye shall see Him, and yes, as I already quoted the Scripture, “And they also who pierced Him.” And Jesus Christ’s coming may not be a fast event. Maybe there will be a sign in the sky and then as the earth rotates people will begin to wonder what that’s all about, and then pretty soon Jesus Christ arrives in Jerusalem with His redeemed ones, those who are purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, who established what we call the Millennial Kingdom. We call it the Millennial Kingdom because that means that it is a thousand years based on the book of Revelation.
It’s the time when the curse is only partially lifted – not completely. People still die during the Millennial Kingdom. People still have opposition to Jesus. If you read the rest of this chapter you discover that there is some opposition to Him. And that’s the time, however, when all those prophecies (sometimes chapters in the book of Isaiah) will be fulfilled. That’s when the following verses are going to come about. “Many people shall say, ‘Come, let us go unto the mountain of the Lord, unto the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways. We will walk in His paths, for the Law shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’”
Jesus Christ has come to reign on this earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. (applause) After that period of time you have the resurrection of all the dead who have never come to God’s saving forgiveness and grace, and you have what is known in the Bible as the Great White Throne Judgment, which I have preached on before in a different context. And after that, you have a new phenomenon. It is the New Jerusalem, and John in his writings in the book of Revelations actually receives a glimpse of the New Jerusalem, and this New Jerusalem, unlike the physical Jerusalem in our time or even during the Millennial period is eventually eternity, and that’s where we will be forever and ever, and eternity is a very, very long time.
John saw that Holy City, and this is part of the description that he gives us. John said, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and walk with them, and they shall be His people and He Himself shall be their God, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. And there shall be no death, neither sorrow nor crying. Neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.’ And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain and I saw the New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven. And her light was like unto a stone most precious, even as a jasper stone, clear as crystal. And I saw no temple therein for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the nations of them, which are saved shall walk in the light of it, and there is no night there, for it needs not the light of the sun, neither of the moon to shine upon it. For the glory of God does enlighten it, and the Lamb is its lamp.”
And then he says this. “His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads, and they will reign with Him forever and ever.” At last, peace has come to Jerusalem. (applause) Eternal peace has come to Jerusalem because the Prince of Peace has come and He will make all things new and make all things right, and finally the peace that is promised will be ours and will belong to the world.
Our Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You might indeed during this period of time give us the confidence to know that no matter what we are going through, it will all end well because You are the King. We love You and we pray today for the peace of Jerusalem. And we pray even as the Scripture itself admonishes us in the book of Revelation, “Even so come, Lord Jesus.”